You will be worried about spending time in prison when you are arrested and charged with a felony in Arizona. Additionally, the potential of having a tainted criminal record is challenging for most people to accept. When determining the appropriate punishment for your criminal acts, the judge and prosecutors will check different circumstances in your case.
A case circumstance can be aggravating, mitigating, or neutral. An aggravating factor is a circumstance that makes your crime more serious. When these factors are present, you could suffer a harsher penalty for your crime. A mitigating factor, on the other hand, will decrease the severity of your punishment.
When the prosecution introduces an aggravating factor, they must prove that the incident happened as they claim. However, for mitigating circumstances, you must gather enough evidence to verify that the factor applies to your case. If you or a loved one faces felony criminal charges in Phoenix, AZ, you will require the expert legal guidance we offer at Phoenix Criminal Attorney.
Aggravating Factors in Arizona Criminal Cases
In Arizona, sentencing for a felony conviction is set by state sentencing guidelines. When determining the appropriate sentence for your case, the judge may consider the following aggravating factors:
Use of Dangerous Weapons to Commit a Crime
Anyone over eighteen can purchase and use a firearm in Arizona. However, using a gun in a fight or using it to harm another person attracts criminal charges. Violent crimes can be carried out using different types of weapons.
However, if evidence shows you used a firearm in the crime, you risk facing a harsher sentence. For example, the punishment for assault is less than for assault committed using a dangerous weapon.
The Value of Property Stolen
The property value plays a part in your sentencing if you face theft charges in Arizona. When you face a theft charge, the penalties become harsher as the value of the property taken increases.
You Committed the Crime in a Heinous Way
Committing a violent crime against another person attracts severe charges and harsh penalties. However, the circumstances surrounding the crime may cause you to face harsher legal punishment and more collateral consequences. An offense in which you were cruel or disregarded another person’s life may have life-changing consequences.
You Paid Someone to Commit the Crime
You could be charged and convicted if you solicit another person to commit a crime. This could cause you to face a more severe penalty.
You Broke the Trust Bestowed on You
If you work as a government official, money and assets are entrusted to you. If you commit a crime that directly violates your duty as an official, your sentence for the crime could be increased significantly.
You Caused Serious Harm to Another Person
Causing serious bodily injury is an aggravating factor that applies to felony and misdemeanor criminal cases. Severe physical harm could result from intentional, unintentional, or negligent acts. Crimes that involve serious physical harm to the victim are prosecuted and punished harshly in Arizona.
Common examples of severe bodily injuries include:
- Loss of limbs
- Broken bones
- Back and spine injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Severe burns
If the victim of your crime suffers any of these injuries, your case may be severe. Therefore, having a knowledgeable criminal attorney fight the case is essential.
You Committed the Crime out of Hate
A hate crime is committed due to the victim’s sex, religion, or race. Therefore, if you commit a crime like murder out of hate, you could face harsh penalties. Additionally, you could face sentencing under the anti-discrimination laws.
Having Prior Convictions
Arizona law is strict on repeat offenders. Your criminal record details your past criminal acts. If you have been convicted of an offense, the punishment should help you learn from your mistakes and can become a better citizen.
However, some people end up committing a similar or more serious offense. If you have a prior felony conviction, the potential penalties of your sentence will be harsh. In addition to the harsh prison sentence, having a criminal record could impact your immigration status and other aspects of your life.
Under all circumstances, causing the death of another person attracts severe criminal consequences. However, your case may be more complicated if there was premeditation. In Arizona, premeditation involves elaborating plans to harm or kill another person. Killing another person with premeditation will attract first-degree murder charges.
Lying in Wait
A person lies in wait by waiting in a strategic position for an opportunity to attack another person. This denies the victim the chance to defend themselves from harm. Lying in wait is a common aggravating factor that applies in murder cases. Lying in wait can elevate your murder charges to the first degree.
An Unborn Child Died in Your Crime
You could cause injury or death to their unborn child when you inflict injury on a pregnant woman. A crime against an unborn child in Arizona can result in severe legal trouble. You will face a harsher penalty for a crime that caused an unborn baby's death.
You Concealed Your Face After the Crime
An attempt to conceal your face during or after committing a crime is an aggravating factor that could increase your penalties.
You Lured a Victim from a Safety Shelter
Shelters or other places are set aside to protect victims of serious crimes like domestic violence. You risk facing a stricter punishment if you lure someone from the safe shelter and cause harm.
You are an Illegal Immigrant
You are considered an illegal immigrant if you have no relevant documents to enter or remain in the United States. When an immigrant commits a crime in Arizona, the prosecution may introduce this fact as an aggravating circumstance in their case. In addition to the increased penalty, the immigrant could be deported.
High Degree of Criminal Sophistication
If you portray a high degree of criminal sophistication in your crime, the court may increase the seriousness of your penalties. Criminal sophistication is seen through the attempts to conceal the crime and the understanding of police work.
You Impersonated a Law Enforcement Officer
Impersonating a law enforcement officer involves pretending to be a police officer so you can access a place or engage in criminal acts. If you impersonate an officer, the prosecutor can seek to have your punishment increased.
Mitigating Circumstances in Arizona Criminal Cases
An acquittal is the most favorable outcome in any criminal case. However, in most felony cases, being acquitted of your charges is impossible. This is because prosecutors will thoroughly investigate your case before filing charges. However, even after a guilty verdict, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may help you receive a lighter sentence by presenting mitigating factors in your case.
Mitigating factors are the circumstances that reduce the harmfulness of your actions. Your attorney will introduce mitigating factors in your case with the following motives:
- To portray a positive image. When you face criminal charges, your reputation is ruined. While you battle the charges, the prosecution will paint you a bad image. Therefore, introducing a mitigating factor can portray you positively and impact the case outcome.
- Show that your criminal acts were out of character. If evidence shows you are a habitual offender, the court may show you no mercy when imposing a sentence. However, a skilled criminal lawyer can use the mitigating factors to convince the prosecution that your actions at the time of the crime were out of your typical character.
Presenting the relevant mitigating factors can make a significant difference in your case. Common mitigating factors that could apply in a criminal case include the following:
- The defendant’s age. Being a young offender could be a mitigating factor in a criminal case. Most juveniles cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. Therefore, a defense attorney can present this fact to reduce the potential penalties of a conviction.
- Mental condition. Individuals with a history of mental incapacitation cannot make the right decisions. Your criminal defense attorney can present evidence showing that you are mentally or intellectually handicapped. This could help people receive mental health care and counseling instead of harsh punishment.
- Duress or coercion. If you are coerced into committing a crime against your will, your attorney can present the evidence of coercion as a mitigating circumstance.
- The defendant recognized their wrongdoing. Stopping to help injured people instead of running after an accident can be a mitigating factor in your case.
- A defendant exercises caution to avoid causing harm to others. Not all criminal cases cause injury to other people’s property. You stand a chance at a reduced sentence if you can prove that you exercised reasonable caution to avoid harming another person.
- Lack of a criminal record. Most prosecutors and judges are strict about repeat offenders. A prior conviction in your history may indicate your inability to learn from your mistakes and rehabilitate.
- You acted in self-defense. The law allows you to protect yourself or another person from foreseeable harm. However, you must use reasonable force to protect yourself. If you use the defense of ‘self-defense’ in your case, you may have a chance to avoid harsh penalties.
- You have experienced childhood trauma. A person’s background and upbringing can impact their behavior as an adult. For most individuals who have suffered childhood trauma, committing crimes or being part of criminal gangs could give them a sense of belonging. Your lawyer can present your childhood trauma as a mitigating factor for your case.
- Provocation. Some crimes involving provocation are offenses that happen during an argument. For example, a person who plans to commit murder cannot be treated like someone who kills another person during an argument.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors for Life Imprisonment and the Death Penalty
In Arizona, there is a different set of aggravating and mitigating factors for crimes that attract the death penalty or life imprisonment. Often, cases that could bring this type of sentence are first-degree felonies.
The aggravating factors for these crimes include:
- Prior convictions. Your criminal history is an essential part of your sentencing in Arizona. You will face a harsher penalty if you are a repeat offender. If you face charges for a serious felony and another felony conviction on record, you risk life imprisonment.
- You received payment to commit the crime. If you are charged with a serious offense like murder, having been paid to commit the crime is an aggravating factor. If the prosecution can prove that you received a token to engage in the criminal act, you could be sentenced to death.
- The crime is committed in a heinous and cruel way. Crimes like torture involve the use of extreme cruelty against another person. If you commit a heinous crime like torture, you could spend the rest of your life in prison.
- You were on probation or parole. Sometimes, a defendant may be released before serving their entire sentence. This could be through probation or parole. Although these actions save you from incarceration, they are accompanied by strict terms. A common probation term is to avoid criminal acts. If you commit a serious felony while on probation for a serious felony, the court can sentence you to life imprisonment or death.
- You caused multiple deaths. If you cause the deaths of several people in one incident, the prosecution could file multiple homicide charges against you. You could face the harshest possible penalty for multiple murder charges.
- The victim was an elder or a minor. If you committed a violent crime against someone over seventy years old or a child under fifteen, your sentence may be very harsh.
- The victim was a law enforcement officer. Police officers are among the protected people. If you knowingly kill a police officer on active duty, you could face the death sentence.
- You committed the crime to enhance street gang activities. Being part of a gang in Arizona is a crime. If you commit a crime like murder to improve the activities of that gang, your sentence may be life imprisonment or capital punishment.
If you are charged with a crime with a potential punishment of life imprisonment or the death sentence, some mitigating factors could help you avoid a harsh punishment, including:
- The defendant’s ability to show remorse. How you act after an arrest and during the prosecution of a serious felony may impact your sentencing. People show remorse if they understand the nature of their actions and how they affect others. You may be able to avoid the death sentence if you are sorry for the harm you caused another person.
- Evidence that you were under duress. No level of coercion should push you to commit a serious crime like murder. However, many defendants use duress as a defense in their cases. While this defense may not help you walk free, the prosecution can view it as a basis to reduce the seriousness of your punishment.
- The defendant’s role in the crime was minor. When you commit murder with another person, you could be charged with first-degree murder. This may happen even when you are not the perpetrator of the murder. However, if your role in the felony was minor, you can avoid the death penalty.
- Death was not a foreseeable consequence of your actions. Different circumstances could result in the death of another person. Crimes like assault, DWI, and firearm discharging are everyday situations that result in death. You may be spared the death sentence if you did not foresee death due to your actions.
- Your age. Minors who commit serious crimes like murder may be charged as adults. However, a juvenile may not understand the consequences of their actions. In this case, being young may be a mitigating factor that helps you avoid capital punishment.
How Do Aggravating and Mitigating Factors Apply in My Case?
The presence of aggravating or mitigating factors can increase or decrease your prison sentence in Arizona. The court will impose a presumptive sentence with no aggravating or mitigating factors. Before determining your sentence, the court will weigh the aggravating circumstances against the mitigating factors to see what carries more weight.
Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
The stakes are high for defendants facing felony criminal charges in Arizona. A felony conviction results in a lengthy prison sentence. Additionally, the conviction leaves a criminal record that impacts other aspects of your life. When the prosecution introduces aggravating factors in your case, the penalties become more serious.
For a defendant facing a felony charge, the ideal case outcome is a dismissal. However, this is only sometimes possible. However, you can negotiate a plea agreement or work hard to ensure the mitigating factors apply to your case. For this reason, it is crucial to hire and retain a competent criminal lawyer throughout your case.
At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we understand the impact that a felony conviction could have on your life. We work hard to protect your rights and build a solid defense to fight your charges. We serve clients seeking legal guidance to navigate their criminal charges in Phoenix, AZ. Contact us today at 602-551-8092.